Bread – friend or foe?

With low-carb, Paleo and gluten-free diets all the rage, bread is out of favour – in fact sales of bread have fallen dramatically over recent years in Australia. Yet with many of us shunning bread in the belief that it is ‘bad’ for us, is there any benefit in boycotting one of the world’s oldest staples?

What’s in a loaf?

The basic ingredients of bread are flour, water and salt – yet pick up a loaf from your supermarket and you may see ingredients such as Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (SSL), Azodicarbonamide, soybean oil, sugar and dough ‘conditioners’. Most of these additives are used to preserve the shelf-life of bread, and while not harmful, many argue that they’d prefer their bread to go off in a day or so and not contain artificial preservatives.

Gluten is the protein that allows dough to become sticky and ‘doughy’ – it also binds to carbon dioxide, so allows bread to become bigger in volume. Gluten has been given a bad rap recently, but is it actually gluten harmful? While many people claim to feel less bloated, have better digestion, fewer headaches and improved skin when cutting out this protein, studies have found that unless you have an allergy to gluten such as Coeliacs Disease, there is little harm in consuming gluten on a regular basis. Often improvements in health are seen when cutting out gluten because it’s harder to eat so many processed products, as many of these contain gluten.

Wholegrain, rye, spelt…

So are there benefits of bread? And is one loaf that different to another?

Bread is a source of starchy carbohydrate. We all need carbohydrate in the diet for energy, yet certain carbohydrates can also provide fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals. Unrefined carbohydrates such as wholewheat flour, rye, spelt and quinoa all have higher quantities of fibre, B vitamins, iron, folic acid and calcium. Breads containing these grains will also release energy more slowly than white loaves, baguettes and bagels (more refined and processed). If the bread has the addition of nuts and seeds this adds protein, fibre, essential healthy fats and may help to provide a slower energy release.

Low-calorie options

Certain brands have produced ‘lower calorie’ breads, yet the majority of these loaves are simply smaller in size or more thinly sliced!

So bread is a convenient, economical, healthy way to get some fibre, energy and essential vitamins in your diet – choose a wholegrain variety such as wholemeal, rye or spelt and like everything in your diet, enjoy in moderation!

Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)